Barkleys of Broadway [1949]

The MGM reunion of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, 10 years after their last RKO picture, happened by accident. The Barkleys of Broadway was meant to pair Astaire with Judy Garland as a follow-up to their 1948 hit Easter Parade. Garland, however, had to drop out due to health problems and was replaced by Ginger, who had gone on to a successful career in nonmusical drama and comedy. As it turned out, the plot probably suited Ginger better than it did Garland. Josh and Dinah Barkley are a veteran song-and-dance couple whose routine bickering turns into a complete breakup when Dinah decides she hasn't received enough credit for her talent and leaves Josh to take a straight dramatic role as Sarah Bernhardt. Fred and Ginger are as charming and comfortable together as a veteran couple should be, but this film is not a return to the RKO days--its elements are trademark MGM: splashy colors, Fred in a gimmicky solo number (playing sorcerer's apprentice to a line of unoccupied shoes), Oscar Levant providing his usual dynamic pianism and acerbic personality, and a score that is at its best when it borrows songs from a previous generation. In fact, Harry Warren, who provided the music for Ira Gershwin's lyrics, was upset that the film's big ballroom number recycled George and Ira Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away from Me," which Fred and Ginger had introduced (but did not dance to) in 1937's Shall We Dance. Frankly, though, "They Can't Take That Away" not only works well thematically, but is one of the greatest songs ever written for the screen, while Warren's score is merely adequate and unmemorable. All in all, The Barkleys of Broadway is a warm, welcome, and not completely satisfying reunion. Watch it, then watch Swing Time again. --David Horiuchi

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